The Real 1812 Legacy
Do you remember Canada’s Centennial? It galvanized communities along the St. Lawrence. Groups worked together to host celebratory events. People donned period clothes, many of which are still hanging in closets across the region.
The way people reminisce about that commemoration, or more recent anniversaries for Loyalist-settled towns, suggests the potential for the War of 1812 Bicentennial is even that much greater.
One thing stands out as being different for the Bicentennial – technology. Since 1967 our ability to communicate has advanced considerably. Thanks to the Internet, we now have the potential to more closely connect Bicentennial initiatives throughout the St. Lawrence region.
In 1967, for example, to find someone who might teach period dancing depended on who you knew – or who advertised in your town. In 2012, through an 1812-focused online community, we’ve been able to foster a growing network of English Country Dancers along the St. Lawrence in just a matter of months.
Why is a network important?
A network of Regency dancers might not seem overly important at the outset, but these members travel to each other’s classes to learn and socialize. When they visit other towns, they tend to eat at restaurants. If one town has an event or ball, the others support and promote it. It’s quite literally a regional community. The scale of which is considerable: these dancers are connected to groups in Toronto, London, Ottawa, Montreal, Plattsburgh – and even Halifax. The potential draw for our region in supporting 1812 dancing is significant.
And that’s just one network. Connected to the War of 1812 Bicentennial are re-enactors, historians, genealogists, heritage craftspeople and many more.
The Potential for Heritage Tourism
If well coordinated, the St. Lawrence region is perfectly poised to foster a unique brand of heritage tourism, which is all about travelling to experience the places and stories that embody the past. And heritage tourism appeals to the History Traveller.
Accounting for 10-30% of all tourists, History Travellers purposefully plan trips to historical places, or end up visiting heritage sites along the way. They are usually more educated and earn more money than the average Canadian or American.
If the total tourism revenue in Ontario was 17.6% in 2008, at the lowest estimate, History Travellers might account for $1.76 billion in revenues – it’s nothing to sneeze at.
And the St. Lawrence region has everything to attract the History Traveller. Heritage architecture graces the natural beauty along the mighty St. Lawrence. Descendants of early settlers have meticulously preserved local histories. And our heritage sites have been lovingly maintained.
The War of 1812 Bicentennial simply provides us with a rare opportunity to showcase all that we have to offer in Heritage Tourism – on an international stage.
The Bicentennial has already helped us create new visitors centres in Bath, Kingston, Fort Wellington and Upper Canada Village, all with innovative new 1812 exhibits. At Fort Henry, for example, visitors will be able to fire a mock cannon through interactive technology. At Fort Wellington the showpiece is a rare hull of an 1812 gunboat that protected the St. Lawrence during the war.
It’s up to us
These visitors centres help attract tourists, especially a younger more tech-savvy generation, but it’s the tourism experience around these sites that will encourage people to return to the area – or better yet, move here.
In that regard we all play a part. Restaurants can offer period dishes. Stores can showcase local heritage crafts offering visitors unique products while supporting the regional economy. Inns can participate by bringing the coach house stop back to life, providing local historical information and dressing up in period clothing. And just about everyone can support and participate in bicentennial events.
Many communities are offering workshops on clothing, dancing, and various topics related to life in 1812. Gananoque has already held information session period clothing and has an English Country Dance class scheduled for February 12. A monthly 1812 Dinner Series with guest speakers is selling out in Prescott. You might consider attending such workshops and talks – or even offering similar programming in your town.
Just think of the Bicentennial as an ongoing play where the St. Lawrence is a stage and we all act in living historic theatre. What region can you think of that can compete with that experience?
by Alicia Wanless,
As the Bicentennial Manager for the St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance, Alicia Wanless will help to market many great events in Eastern Ontario over the next three years. A business developer and marketeer in Eastern Ontario, Alicia's focus has been on branding, market research and creative campaigns for gaining attention. Before joining the Alliance, Alicia helped small businesses grow through her cottage industry @CrowderHouse. Alicia also sits on the board for the Spencerville Mill Foundation and the Township of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal's Community Development Committee.